Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has directed ministries to look into countermeasures after plaintiffs in South Korea took legal steps to seize the local assets of a Japanese steelmaker that has refused to comply with a court order to pay compensation for wartime forced labor.
"It is extremely regrettable. I directed related ministries to consider specific measures based on international law to show our resolute stance" in regard to the matter, Abe said in a TV program aired on Sunday, although he did not elaborate.
Lawyers representing the South Korean plaintiffs have launched procedures to seize assets belonging to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp in the country, according to an official statement Wednesday. In response, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono urged Seoul to prevent Japanese companies from being treated unfairly.
Abe did not specify the potential countermeasures, but they could include taking the case to the International Court of Justice, according to government sources.
South Korea's top court ordered the steelmaker in October to compensate four South Koreans who were victims of forced labor during Japanese colonial rule. The decision brought an immediate rebuke from Japan, which maintains that the right to seek compensation was terminated under a 1965 treaty signed between the two countries.
In another wartime forced labor case, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd faces a similar order by a South Korean court.
Tensions have run deep between the two countries in recent months. In addition to wartime issues, the Japanese government accused a South Korean warship of locking its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane on Dec. 20 and released video footage taken from the aircraft. Seoul has denied Japan's claim.
The friction came despite the need for maintaining trilateral cooperation with the United States, as the issue of North Korea continues to loom.
Meanwhile, Abe said during the NHK TV program that he believes a post-World War II peace treaty with Russia would benefit the United States by contributing to regional peace and stability.
"The Japan-U.S. alliance is the basis of Japan's diplomatic and security policies," he said.
The Japanese premier is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month to advance talks on a treaty after the two leaders agreed in November to accelerate their negotiations based on a 1956 joint declaration. Moscow promised in the declaration to hand over two of the four disputed islands between the countries once a peace treaty is signed.
Abe said there is no change in his intention to seek to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution, but that setting a schedule for a first-ever change to the postwar supreme law is not a top priority. He had said earlier that he would seek to put constitutional amendments into force in 2020.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of the Komeito party, the junior coalition partner of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, said on the same TV program that a wide consensus from ruling and opposition parties would be needed to pursue constitutional amendments.